What exactly is it about beer that makes it a popular choice among Filipino drinkers? If you ask around, they would probably say it’s for economic reasons, since beer is relatively cheaper than other alcoholic drinks and is readily available in stores. Also, unlike wine (where your choice is affected by what you’re eating) or hard liquor (which has a much higher alcohol by volume, or ABV), beer has a “no fuss” nature that makes it the perfect go-to drink for any occasion.
And so when the two Viray brothers, Joe and Marco, set out to brew their own craft beer in 2013, they were already poised for success.
They first started brewing five years ago in their own home. Joe had learned how to brew beer in the U.S. and when he came home, Joe’s Brew was born. Then two years ago, they relocated to a different area in Poblacion and put up a brand new brewery and the tasting room.
“Poblacion became Poblacion because of the great bars that had opened up. The people behind it are all creative, they’re all good at it. And here there are no pretensions,” Marco says, noting how other hangout places in Metro Manila have an exclusive, VIP atmosphere. “We don’t have that here. We accept anyone, wherever you come from. That’s what’s great about Poblacion.”
Aside from serving their beers in the tasting room, they also supply the beer for most establishments around Poblacion. Some of their many notable clients are Tambai, Ebi 10, Alchemy Bistro Bar, Bucky’s, and The Smokeyard. When it comes to food, they have a partnership with Holy Smokes that serves food for both adjacent establishments.
One step into their bar and customers will be transported back in time. From the old-school yet fully-functional dumbwaiter in the corner to the retro refrigerator door, their bar embraces the vintage, industrial aesthetic. But more impressive than their interiors is their beers.
Most of the beers in their selection have a certain story to tell. “Like the 34th Pursuit IPA, [it’s] inspired by our grandfather’s World War 2 squadron,” Marco says. Their grandfather, Ramon Zosa, fought alongside his unit in the Battle of the Philippines. Perhaps the bitter taste of 34th Pursuit IPA (Indian Pale Ale) is a nod to the squadron’s resilience and strength.
On the other hand, some of their beers have no specific source or story in mind, but rather an image or a scene. For example, the Fish Rider is said to come from the idea of a “group of guys who like to ride motorcycles and surf.” True enough, their most famous beer can make you feel like you’re lounging on the beach while watching the sunset rather than standing in the middle of Makati City.
For others who prefer something fruitier than bitter or citrus, one of their standard, intro beers is the Soothsayer. And if you’re a fan of Blue Moon or Hoegaarden, then the Sierra Madre is the beer for you. “But everything really depends on the taste of the customer,” Kirra, their bar manager, says.
Right above their tasting room is their brewery which can be toured upon request. Their employees will gladly explain how they brew beer, which starts by grinding the grains which go straight into the mash tun. After boiling and other processes, it will ferment for three weeks before the beer can be transferred to a keg.
This December marks the second year anniversary of their tasting room, but they are just beginning. Their Makati brewery has a sibling in Vigan, Calle Brewery, and if all goes well, will have much more around the Philippines. By next year, they plan to open another brewery in Siargao and a fourth one in Subic. Who knows what the future holds for Joe’s Brew? If they’re current rise is any indication, they are bound to take the country by storm. — HELEN HERNANE